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December 10, 2004

SFOS on scene of Aleutian Island oil spill

New MAP agent in midst of disaster

Unalaska, Alaska— Less than a year after arriving in Unalaska as the Aleutian Island's first Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agent, Reid Brewer finds himself in the midst of a human and environmental disaster that has likely claimed the lives of six people and triggered what is almost certainly the state's largest oil spill since the Exxon Valdez gushed 11-million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in 1989.

On Wednesday, December 8, the Malaysian freighter, Selendang Ayu, carrying a load of soybeans and 500,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel, foundered in heavy seas after its engines failed, and then broke apart on the rocks in Skan Bay, near the fishing port of Dutch Harbor.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crashed in an attempted rescue of the freighter's crew. While the Coast Guard helicopter crew was recovered, six crew from the freighter are missing and feared dead. Efforts now are focused on the cleanup of thousands of gallons of oil now washing onto nearby beaches.

Brewer, together with SFOS researcher Dr. Susan Sugai and MAP instructional media specialist Deborah Mercy are on the scene with university assistance and expertise in the wake of the spill.

Sugai has met with state and federal oil spill officials and has been invited to participate in planning/response meetings. Having conducted research in Skan Bay for more than two decades, Sugai has a great deal of experience and knowledge of the region. She is advising officials on ecosystem issues such as location of kelp beds and issues related to the impact of oil on the local marine environment.

Deborah Mercy is scheduled to fly with a Coast Guard survey helicopter to take video of the site. Brewer is participating in a hazmat training workshop and will soon thereafter assist in assessment activties on the beach.

Over the next 24 hours (8am Friday 10 Dec to 8am Sat 11 Dec.) state and federal response efforts will focus on protecting sensitive areas such as salmon streams, assessing shoreline cleanup needs and the condition of the vessel, and mobilizing needed equipment. Protecting the health and safety of response personnel is a top priority.

For complete stories and photos of the oil spill, go to the Anchorage Daily News

Photo courtesy Forrest R. Bowers, Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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